Saturday 31 December 2022

My 2022

I had a new role in 2022. I am now a game publisher, with the release of Dancing Queen. I created my own brand and business entity - Cili Padi Games. Dancing Queen was a project I worked on for most of this year, starting in January. It was a fun ride getting a game from completion of design to actual publishing. This is just the first step. There is still much work ahead to promote and market the game. I am grateful to the many friends who have supported Dancing Queen.

Despite the pandemic going into an endemic stage and people now coming out to meet friends just like before the pandemic, this year I have not been playing more games than last year. Work has been busy. And it’s work I love. I’ve been spending time on Dancing Queen. I’m not actually going to many meet-ups.

One thing I have developed this year is a three-day training programme under Play With Purpose, to train our teachers to be able to teach the HABA Learning Program, a learning programme using boardgames designed for children aged 4 to 7. It was satisfying to work with teachers who are passionate about developing children. As a long-time gamer I think of HABA children games as very easy. I took for granted that any adult would be able to learn and teach them without issue. Through conducting the training I realised that even if experienced teachers need some time to get familiar with children boardgames. It is something I had taken for granted. It is rewarding to see other teachers I trained now guiding children to play and have fun. I strongly believe play is an important part of growth and development. And this is not just for kids. Adults love to play too, and we learn, understand and remember better when we have a immersive experience. So in my full time work as a trainer, this year I created a boardgame-based learning activity, called Rivers and Lakes. It is an activity which supports up to 100 participants, and the setting is Hong Kong gangs in the 1990’s. It is great fun to incorporate my hobby into my work.

The game which stands out for me in 2022 is Regicide, a cooperative card game which can be played using a standard set of playing cards. Such a clever design and a challenging one to beat too.

I remember Imperial Steam fondly too, a tough and heavy game which keeps you on your toes. You need to plan ahead well to ensure your train company stays competitive till the end.

Pandemic Legacy Season 0 was a memorable experience with my family. I did the previous two campaigns with the same group of friends. It was my first time playing a Pandemic Legacy game with my family. We have played other Pandemic games before. Although the legacy game format is no longer particularly novel by now, the whole campaign was still great fun. We had our crime boss in Shanghai, our secret base in Moscow the heart of enemy territory, and Michelle had her lethal gunbrella taking out enemy spies.

I participated in the Anigames convention in December, showcasing and selling Dancing Queen. I had great fun teaching my game and watching people play it.

One highlight of the year was meeting the designer of Love Letter, Mr Seiji Kanai, in Tokyo. I got my copy of Love Letter signed and I was thrilled to meet the creator of one of my favourite games.

In 2023 I will continue to work on game design. I need to work on marketing Dancing Queen (if you know of friends who might like it please recommend it to them). Other than this I have been working on multiple game design projects, playtesting prototypes and planning what my next project will be. This is an interesting stage for me - I’m transitioning from just playing and writing about boardgames to also creating them. Thank you for coming along on this journey. Happy New Year and may your coming year be filled with many happy gaming moments.

Sunday 18 December 2022


The Game

Municipium is a 2008 game from Reiner Knizia. It was published by Valley Games, which had a bit of reputation during its days. They managed to secure rights to two long out-of-print classics, and the gamer community was lucky to see these back in print. One of the games was Die Macher, and the other Hannibal: Rome vs Carthage. Valley Games often used art and design from Mike Doyle. I used to follow his blog. His style was unconventional. Some of the games with his design work had some useability concerns, but the art was bold and fresh. 

The copy of Municipium I bought was a second hand copy. I saw someone selling it on Facebook and decided to get it on a whim. This is an out-of-print game and not easy to come by. I later realised that Allen my regular gaming buddy who lives a 5-minute drive away from me actually has a copy. I had completely forgotten that. Anyway, I'm happy to own this rare game from Knizia. 

The setting in Municipium is a colonial town of the great Roman Empire. The town is developed and administered following the Roman governmental template, which means you need to have a temple, a bath and other such buildings that civilised people have. Players are powerful families in town, vying for influence. You send your family members to mingle with folks at the various buildings, hoping to gain influence over the citizenry. There are four classes of citizens (in four different colours) and you need to charm all of them. Whenever you collect a set of citizens in four different colours, you swap them for a coin. Whoever is first to collect his fifth coin wins the game. 

There are 7 buildings on the board. The temple is at the centre. The other six surround it and are linked by a circular path. The temple is accessible via two of the buildings. Your family members travel along the paths to the various buildings. Every player has exactly 7 family members. What you do on your turn is simple: take two steps and play a card. You may get one family member to take two steps, or you may ask two family members to each take one step. As for playing a card, you either draw one from the common draw deck to play immediately, or you play one of your three personal cards. Personal cards are single-use, so you better save them for when they are most effective. Cards in the game have a number of different effects, e.g. letting you use the power of a building where you have more family members than everyone else. 

One card effect is advancing the praefect, i.e. the large white pawn above. The praefect always moves one step clockwise along the circle of buildings. Whenever he stops, he gives out a favour token to whoever has the most family members at the building. Favour tokens are just like citizens, except they are jokers and can be treated as any colour. 

Every building is associated with one of the four citizen colours. Whenever citizens of a particular colour are added, they must go to a building of that colour. Once a building has three citizens, it is "harvest" time. Whoever has the most family members gets to claim two of the citizens. The player with the second most family members gets the third citizen. Generally this is how you collect citizens. 

You will always be competing to have the most family members at as many buildings as possible. You need this to win citizens and also to trigger the building powers. The temple at the centre is for tiebreaking. When the game starts, the tiebreaker priority is set based on family members at the temple. Once the game gets going, this priority is only updated when the temple power is triggered. Ties do happen frequently, so it is often important to fight at the temple. OK that sounds wrong and blasphemous. 

These are the personal cards. Everyone gets the same three cards. They are generally more powerful so use them wisely. 

When your family member wears a crown he has the strength of two family members. One of the buildings crown your family members. This is a form of investment. If you invest early in strengthening your family members, it can give you a significant advantage for the rest of the game. 

Once you have a set of four citizens, you must trade them in for one coin. The winning condition is 5 coins. 

The Play

When I first read the rules the game felt a little complicated. Each building has a different power. There are a few situations that can be triggered by player actions and card effects, which need to be handled in specific ways. There are quite a few different card powers too. However once I started playing, I found the game pretty straight-forward. It's just move two steps and play a card. 

Municipium is at its core an area majority game. You compete to have the most family members at the various buildings at the right time, i.e. when the building powers are being triggered, and when there are enough citizens to get distributed. Everyone only has seven family members. If you want to be strong in some buildings, you will be weak in others. Priorities priorities priorities. 

The praefect moves in a somewhat predictable manner, so players naturally gravitate towards competing at the next building he will visit. This is a tactical aspect of the game. The game has both strategic and tactical elements, and you can't ignore either. You need to worry about your overall board position because it's important for your general success. Yet you must not neglect the small tactical wins because they do add up. 

The Thoughts

Municipium was never particularly popular. It is a medium weight game. I think the lack of popularity is partly because it is in an awkward niche. It is not simple and welcoming enough to appeal to people who like light and casual games, and it is not the kind of heavy Eurogame that attracts the hardcore Eurogamers. The artwork probably detracted from its appeal. At first glance the board looks rather dull. I find it a game with character. The building powers are interesting and combine to create a coherent and unique experience. They are not just random powers thrown together to create a problem for players to solve. You can make clever combos from building powers. I always enjoy games that provide opportunities for smart play. This is a game with high player interaction. 

I consider myself lucky to land a copy of Municipium


Now that my own game Dancing Queen is released, I sometimes receive Paypal notifications about incoming payments. One recent transaction puzzled me. The amount wasn't right. I checked my order sheet and there was no such game order. Only when I checked the transaction details on Paypal I realised this was not an order at all. It was a long-time reader supporting me and buying me coffee. I have been blogging for about 15 years now, and it has always been just sharing my personal journey. Nothing particularly ambitious. It is always rewarding to know that I have brought joy and useful information to others. Thank you to all who have been supporting me and to Bay-Wei Chang! 

Sunday 11 December 2022

Dancing Queen is released!

I must admit it was an exciting moment when I held my first physically published game in my hand. This project to turn Dancing Queen into a physical game started in Jan 2022, which means it took close to a year to get to this point. The game design was completed in 2021 and the game mechanisms did not change. However turning a free, amateur print-and-play game into a professional product still required much time and energy. This small box that fits snugly in my hand is a culmination of two years of hard work and heart work. 

I considered getting the game produced in China, but eventually decided to get a local friend to print it for me. Nicholas runs a printing factory and is not a specialised game manufacturer. Both he and I had a lot to learn about mass producing a hobbyist game. We certainly encountered many challenges and we had to be creative in solving all sorts of problems. The game box is custom made and is not based on any existing box template that Nicholas has. He created a die cut mold specifically for Dancing Queen

I intentionally went with a cigarette-like box because I felt naughty. A real cigarette box does not actually look like this. I converted Dancing Queen into a pure card game because I wanted it to be easy to carry around. I wanted it to fit inside a shirt pocket or a handbag. 

My production cost is high. I use PVC cards. They are strong and waterproof. The colours look vibrant. My cards are all die cut as a whole, as opposed to a two-step process of cutting the straight edges then cutting away the corners. Being die cut means better quality rounded corners. It also means a higher production cost. 

The art went through multiple rounds of experimentation and adjustment. I did a market survey before deciding on the Japanese comic style. Among the three art concepts, it was actually my third choice. However I decided to follow what the market wanted. A marketable product is made for the buyer, not the seller. Now that I have been working with this Japanese comic style art for some time, I can no longer imagine Dancing Queen having any other art. 

These two above are the card backs of the reference cards. Each player gets one set of four reference cards. One player gets the cards with the red backs, the other the blue backs. 

Four reference cards combine to create a reference sheet. Every row represents one card in the game. The left half shows the girl side power, and the right half shows the boy side power. This reference sheet is not just meant for new players. Veterans will find this useful too. They will be able to better guess their opponents' cards, and they can look up this reference sheet to check exactly how many points their opponents will score. 
The rulebook is in full colour. I didn't want a black and white rulebook.

One thing that I still need time to get used to is the card names. In the physical version all card names have been changed to become song names. I like this. The original names are easier to remember, but they are a mess of unrelated keywords and phrases. I like that now I have 18 songs I can sing whenever I win with a particular card. I love singing Dancing Queen at my opponent while doing a little dance. At one playtest session, I observed my playtester unconsciously singing a song in the game. Once I heard a playtester hum Never Gonna Give You Up while reading a card. I thought oh no he just gave his card away. I later found out that he didn't actually have that card. It was just that the whole game gave him the vibes which made him hum the song. When I told him there was this song in the game he was tickled. 

Assembling the game was quite a bit of work. I was fortunate that IMU, a local medical university, was helping their students look for short term (two-week) internships at the time I needed to do game assembling. I offered two internship slots and got myself two 2nd year medical students. They helped me with some of my training work, and also with assembling Dancing Queen. They were a great help. They were meticulous, careful and proactive. Being able to work on boardgames on an internship is probably a rare thing. They are likely the only two who had this experience this year among their course mates. I gave them both a copy of the game as a souvenir. 

I like this Cili Padi Games logo. Cili Padi Games is the brand I am trying to build for my game designs. I tend to like simple logos. Initially I wanted to do a logo which looks like a traditional Chinese stamp. I created a rough sketch and asked Benz to create a logo for me based on that. After a few rounds of experimenting, I settled with this logo. I abandoned the stamp idea, and used this half a taiji icon. Half a taiji in red looks like a chili, which is perfect for the brand name. 

One of the reasons behind this brand name is I wanted something with a Malaysian flavour, thus using the Malay word "cili padi" (mini chili). I want to design games which are simple yet clever and packs a punch. 

My wife Michelle and younger daughter Chen Rui helped me with some assembly. There are many steps. I sleeve every single card. I have a total of 7500 cards to sleeve. After sleeving cards, I have to pick the 25 cards from their respective stacks. The printing house does not sort the cards for me. 7 out of 25 of the cards are the same - the trophies. That reduces my work a little, but there is still a lot to handle. All this is done manually, not using machines. 

One tiring piece of work is folding the rulebook. My rulebook is a long thin sheet of paper which needs to be folded 8 times. Folding this requires high precision and concentration. I have to think through the whole process and define every step. This is tougher work than I expected. 

When I received the boxes, they were not fully formed. They were still flat, so that they were easier to transport. I had to open them up then seal the bottom before putting the cards and rules in. Once this is done, there is still one last step - shrink wrapping. When I published my book two years ago I had bought the equipment needed for shrink wrapping. So this time I only needed to buy the plastic sleeves of the right size. 

Front cover

Back of the box

We changed the notation on the cards. In the print-and-play version, I used mostly icons. I found that not everyone understood the icons well. So Edwin helped to change the notation to a combination of text and icons. The text describes the power of the card, and the icons indicate the point values under different situations. 

One thematic change we made was the disco ball. It was previously a microphone.  

You can buy Dancing Queen at